Why Norwich North is counting today

COUNTING is underway in the crucial Norwich North by-election, being held following the resignation of Labour MP Dr Ian Gibson because of revelations over his expenses claims.

COUNTING is underway in the crucial Norwich North by-election, being held following the resignation of Labour MP Dr Ian Gibson because of revelations over his expenses claims.

It's a by-election which could play a key role in determining the future of this country's government, but the setting for the crucial count could hardly be further removed from the halls of Westminster.

The count to decide Norwich North's next MP will be conducted just a stone's throw away from a set of cow sheds in a building at the Norfolk Showground named after the patron saint of farmers.

The visit to the Costessey venue will be a real trip into the country for the 60-plus media outlets descending on St Walstan's Hall in their technology-packed vans to cover the by-election.

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The national and international interest in the count has turned into a logistical challenge for Broadland District Council, which is organising the count and trying to cater for the needs of the country's broadcasters and newspapers.

A marquee has been put up next to the hall for the announcement itself, a special stage has been built so the film crews can get their shots of the winners and losers and a sound system installed.

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Angi Doy, communications manager for Broadland District Council, said: “There is intense media interest in this by-election, unprecedented in Broadland.

“During an election we would normally host about eight journalists from the local media, but this time around there has been national and even international interest in this election.

“We have 60 names on our media list at present and the list is growing hourly. We have had to provide extra facilities and staff at the count venue to meet the needs of the media and of course to match the public interest that they represent.”

Given that the polls closed at 10pm last night some questioned why the ballot boxes are not being opened for counting until 9am today, with the winner expected to be announced at around lunchtime.

Colin Bland, Broadland District Council chief executive and acting returning officer for the election, explained the reasons behind that decision.

He said: “The overwhelming imperative at any election is that the count should be transparent and accurate. One of the reasons that we count next day is the increasing number of voters choosing to vote by post.

“After the last general election new measures were introduced to try to eliminate election fraud. This means that when voters register for a postal vote we collect their date of birth and signature.

“Once we have received their postal vote we have to check their signature and date of birth against our records to verify their right to vote. This is a painstaking process and takes time.

“There are 7,991 postal votes in the Broadland for this constituency. Some people do take their postal votes to the polling stations and these have to be returned to the relevant council for checking after the polling stations close.

“Norwich North is a split constituency, so two councils are involved in the verification of postal votes.

“Avoiding an overnight count also means people counting the votes are fresh and less likely to make mistakes. There is a cost saving too and we always have to be mindful of providing value for money for public funds.”

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